Could McLaren just build their own engine? Please?

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Many years ago, when McLaren’s relationship with Mercedes was showing signs of stress, I posited the notion that they simply build their own engine or purchase the then departing BMW F1 team’s engine program.

I wondered at the time why this wasn’t a consideration and then someone in the F1 press thought about asking the team boss, Martin Whitmarsh, if they would build their own engine after Mercedes left.

Martin’s answer was really down to a cost/benefit analysis and how the costs didn’t add up to a positive program. At the time, we were talking about a relatively stable V8 engine format and still they seemed to feel that it didn’t make sense to build their own.

Fast forward to 2017 and McLaren are in a difficult situation with an engine supply that isn’t performing at the levels they expect. The question now crops up again but this time it isn’t a simple V8, it’s a overtly complex hybrid engine that took millions and millions of dollars to design. McLaren boss, Zak Brown says costs would have to come down with the new 2020 regulations in order for them to consider it.

“We’re interested to see what the new engine formula is in 2021 – and whether we consider doing our own engine, or whether other people would come in under new rules,” said Brown.

“So right now we’ve got to focus on the next three years and, as soon as we get that figured out, then yeah, of course we’ve got to look.

“I think the landscape in Formula 1 is going to change in a very positive way from ’21 onwards, with budget caps, revenue redistribution, and new engine rules.

“So it’s a little hard to take any decisions on ’21 with so many things that will change.”

In the end, it still seems that making its own engine isn’t something they are completely on board with rather favoring a supplier:

“We’d be very much in favour of there being an independent, competitive engine, not just an engine that makes up the numbers,” he said.

“The manufacturers are great, I fully embrace them.

“But it would be healthy for the sport, like it’s been in the past, to have an independent engine that teams can use should they choose, and it be a competitive engine. That’s key.

“The last time around Cosworth was in, and at the end they weren’t competitive.

“So it doesn’t work to just have an independent engine if it’s not something that you can win races with.”

I completely understand their thinking here as Martin said all those years ago. What I am less convinced of is the reasoning given that in fact, this isn’t a privateer team, it is a road car manufacturer and at some point, wouldn’t McLaren benefit from having its own engine program that can then be used for its super cars? Like Ferrari and Mercedes?

I could understand if Red Bull weren’t keen or Williams, Force India or Sauber but McLaren is a supercar manufacturer and it would seem to me that an engine program would make more sense for them than anyone else relying on an engine supply.

Red Bull even wanted to try and amalgamate their own version of a Renault and name it TAG but McLaren seem intent on sticking with a supplier and I have to acquiesce to their goals as they know best what they can and cannot afford. I would like to see them make the move and start a holistic F1 program of chassis and engine to finally compete with Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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i completely agree. but it will only happen if, with the next round of engine changes, F1 actually manages to significantly cut costs for the team. let’s hope it happens.


The engines in the McLaren road cars are outsourced too. They are developed and build by Ricardo plc. So they really don’t have an engine team. With such low sales volumes it probably makes sense to do this. As they get bigger they may change this approach.

Negative Camber

Agreed. I think this was what Martin said all those years ago too and it makes sense. I was suggesting they purchase BMW’s engine development team for the F1 car at the time because, clearly, BMW didn’t need it. ;)

Mark Leel

That’s what I think Mclaren should have done. The moment Mercedes bought Brawn GP and became a works team again BMW left Formula 1.


Typically customer teams haven’t borne the cost of the R&D for the power units. That cost has largely been carried by the power unit supplier (normally a manufacturer). With the Hybrids, customers were charged a bigger proportion of the development costs, but the recently negotiated deal to cap p.u supply contracts at $12m per team per year, apparently means the cost to customers is back to the incremental cost of supply and support. It’s hard to see there being a viable business case for McLaren fronting the development cost of a new p.u, just for their own cars, or even… Read more »

Paul KieferJr

Is McLaren really a works team? Remember, we thought Ferrari was a works team, but it turns out that they just make cars to sell to fund their team. Merc started out as a car maker, then became an F1 team when they didn’t have to, so I would call them a works team. I think the point of contention here is the definition of a “works team”. I would contend, per the logic that I’m using, that McLaren is not really a works team given that they started out as a regular team and probably followed the same path… Read more »


Would you agree with the definition of a “works team” being the racing arm of a car manufacturer? In which case Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and McLaren are all ‘works teams’. If we defined it a little more widely as the racing arm of an industrial or engineering business, then Williams and Haas are also ‘works teams’. I think I’d go with the wider definition. Or if we took a definition of ‘works’ that aligns more to the ‘works teams’ of the 50’s and 60’s, where some cars were entered by ‘the works’ (the manufacturer) and others were customer cars run… Read more »

Shane Dunn

I said all this in the Alonso post.
Alonso won’t stay to wait for a McLaren engine to develop. Has to old to wait that long for a start.

Let’s face it, they haven’t had much luck with manufacture engines so what’s to loose.

Short term millions of £££££(€€€€€€)($$$$$$) long term the road car group may benifits from the F1 team running McLaren engines